I am not surprised that Elvis Presley was such a great Christian artist, not at all. I owned a huge compilation of all his Christian music back in the 1990s and was astonished that I had slept walked through so much of it. It all felt like part of the same instinct, if not the same sessions, back then. It doesn’t now, having heard, concluding with this one, all three albums, as well as his Christmas albums, there is something distinctly less than pious and more than effortless: an expression of a deeply felt love, the same one that fuels Presley’s version of, say, “And I Love You So”. But over the years, he managed to integrate his faith into his overall sound, specifically on his final Christian album. It is love as yearn, a passionate flame which doesn’t go for the “American Trilogy” anthemism; even on the clearly anthemic title of his 48th album, He Touched Me.
He Touched Me is as close as Presley ever got to modern Christian music, its spirituality is a mutation away from MOR pop, or deep Church like Hymning. But it is neither. Recorded over three months in the Spring of 1971, with the usual suspects on board including producer Felton Jarvis, guitarist James Burton, and ringer drummer the legendary session man Kenny Buttrey, on hand. It wasn’t an easy recording session though Presley was in high spirits throughout. It took Presley FOURTEEN TAKES, to nail “Seeing Is Believing”.
12 songs in 30 minutes, nothing here isn’t at the least good and some of it is better than that, a jovial dash at Jerry Reed “A Thing Got Love” with its piano intro and Presley’s cha-cha, the lyric isn’t necessarily Christian at all but the arrangement is like church bells ringing and the backing harmonies have a hymn like quality; Armond Morales of the Imperials shadowed Presley like he was McCartney and Presley was Lennon as they split the difference between secular and religious. “An Evening Prayer” could have been a ballad from one of his earliest movies, Presley sings spirituals but not as though they are spirituals. He keens them out, he transform them, the good, the classic, and the less good contemporary. The highlights of an album with more than few is a Gospel stormer “I, John”, a fine interpretation of the over influential “Amazing Grace” and the sort of modern pop that Presley would take up the charts time after time “I’ve Got Confidence” by Gospel singer Andraé Crouch -it is Gospel yet Presley swings his music like pop.
That swing and, of course, the immaculate vocals, makes for a Presley star turn. Everything except the material is first rate, the musical performances are so good that Presley has reason to be in great mood, he uses his rock-pop band to flesh out songs so he can sound faithful but not stoic or haranguing. They are not merely spirituals but songs in good spirits: there is a joy to all of Presley’s spirituals, his love of Gospel is bone deep and he gets it: he gets that the secret to Gospel is that it is HAPPY music, that even at his emotional depth, joy emerges. I bet he was happy with this one.
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